People

Joshua Jackson just perfectly summed up the insidious nature of racial blind spots

Posted by
Hannah-Rose Yee
Published
Joshua Jackson in When They See Us

In Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us, your teen crush Pacey plays a lawyer representing a black adolescent wrongfully accused of a brutal rape. In a new interview, the actor perfectly summed up the insidious nature of racial blind spots.

The story of Ava DuVernay’s new Netflix series When They See Us is the story of systematic, institutionalist racial bias.

Based on the heartbreaking true story of five teenagers of colour wrongfully convicted of the brutal rape of a woman jogging in Central Park in 1989, the miniseries unpicks the way the system was stacked against these adolescents from the start. When they were finally exonerated of their crime in 2002, after spending more than a decade behind bars, the five men were released. But it took them a further 12 years before they received a settlement from the city of New York for the years of their lives lost to unfair, unfounded jail time.

The case was the most talked-about true crime of the Nineties, a rape that shocked America and gripped the nation. 

New Yorkers were afraid to walk in the park at night and Donald Trump – then just a loud-mouthed businessman in a bad suit – took out a full page advertisement in the newspaper demanding that the five boys receive the death penalty. At the time, those boys were all between the ages of 15 and 16 years old. Despite their convictions being vacated, Trump has never apologised and maintains their guilt, as does Linda Fairstein, the lawyer who led the prosecution.

You may also like

When They See Us: true story of Ava DuVernay’s Central Park Five drama

Looking back, the case exposes just how much racial bias exists against young men of colour, particularly in the criminal justice system. And while working on the series Joshua Jackson, who plays a lawyer for one of the boys, and is the actor best known for being your teen crush Pacey on Dawson’s Creek realised just how insidious his own racial blind spots have been.

“It is so easy to be blind as a white person inside this society to the constant drumbeat of oppression against your skin,” Jackson said in a recent interview with Vibe. “I don’t have to touch it, I don’t have to feel it.”

He added that as a young man he experienced his own brushes with the law, moments when he was given the kind of benefit of the doubt that the teenagers in When They See Us were never given. Today, he added, “I can pass by a bunch of cops and they give me the head nod and the smile… Franky, success and fame change that as well.”

He continued: “The blind spot for me was being reminded that [black people] can’t take black off. There is no moment for you that you don’t have to deal with the reality of how you are being treated by the broader society, even if it’s not in that moment it’s a constant underlying white noise of your life.” 

A scene of actors walking into court in When They See Us
A scene from When They See Us

“That was the biggest blind spot I felt coming out of this,” Jackson added. “Being reminded again for these five young men that this was the backdrop of their life, even when they weren’t specifically engaged with it and in this moment their entire lives and innocence and youth were stolen from them just for the fact of this existence.”

DuVernay shared a clip of the interview on her own Twitter account, revealing that before meeting Jackson she had never worked with a white actor who was willing to engage in conversations about racial bias and blindspots. 

“When I first met with [Jackson] I didn’t know what to expect,” the director tweeted. “Certainly not THIS. Had never had a convo like that with a white actor. He surprised me in the most unexpected, beautiful way. Reminds me to stay open. You never know what enlightened, empathetic humans you’ll find.” 

Pacey fans, unite! Your teen crush just proved himself to be one of the most thoughtful actors working in Hollywood.

When They See Us streams on Netflix from 31 May. 

Images: Netflix

Topics

Share this article

Author

Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer, podcaster and recent Australian transplant in London. You can find her on the internet talking about pop culture, food and travel.

Recommended by Hannah-Rose Yee

Life

The heartbreaking story of the Nineties true crime that gripped New York

The rape of a jogger and the wrongful conviction of a group of teenage boys was the most talked-about crime of the Nineties. Now it's a Netflix miniseries.

Posted by
Hannah-Rose Yee
Published
Life

Why being on an Ava DuVernay film set is so different from anything else in Hollywood

How the director is making the industry better and more diverse, both in front and behind the camera.

Posted by
Hannah-Rose Yee
Published
People

Ava DuVernay’s new Netflix series reminds us that Trump’s racism is nothing new

In 1989, five young men of colour were wrongfully convicted of rape – and Trump whipped up animosity against them.

Posted by
Moya Crockett
Published
People

Ava DuVernay knows EXACTLY why Hollywood isn’t asking her to make more movies

“I’m not getting John Wick 3, even though I’d love to make it.”

Posted by
Sarah Shaffi
Published
Life

Central Park Five lawyer Linda Fairstein just slammed the Ava DuVernay miniseries

30 years on from the crime, the lawyer still maintains the guilt of the wrongfully convicted teenagers. Now, she has hit back at Netflix for their series.

Posted by
Hannah-Rose Yee
Published